Celebrating Black History Month: Debut Authors in Children’s Literature
By Rosie Pinder, Emma Rogers, Ekta Rajagopalan
There is a great range of children’s books written by Black authors, many of which are recognised household names. We are looking forward to spotlight some of the talented Black debut children’s authors who are new to the industry and writing some fantastic books for children of all ages.
G. M. Linton
One such author is G. M. Linton, whose debut middle grade book My Name is Sunshine Simpson was published by Usborne in paperback in May 2023. Recently followed up by Sunshine Simpson Cooks Up a Storm, this series focuses on Sunshine, her Grandad and her friends, and is a heartwarming read full of gentle fun. G. M. Linton was inspired to create the series by her parents, who arrived in Britain from Jamaica as part of the Windrush generation. Her writing is uplifting and encourages children to be proud of their voice and who they are.
Raised in Ghana and Zimbabwe, Nyani Nkrumah’s love of reading was fostered by her mother, who taught English literature and encouraged her to recite poems and Shakespeare soliloquies. In January, HarperCollins published her debut, Wade in the Water, a book that explores the unlikely friendship between an eleven-year-old Black girl and a white woman in a small Mississippi town in the early 1980s. Ella lives in the racially divided Ricksville and befriends Ms St. James when she comes to the community to carry out some research. The relationship becomes complex when Ella begins to push Ms St. James’ boundaries that guard a complicated past and dangerous secrets. Described as “a dreamy, brutal, and revelatory reading experience that… tugs the heart” by Diane McWhorter, this is a great read to encourage empowerment in young girls.
Aleema Omotoni is a British-Nigerian author who published her debut novel, Everyone’s Thinking It, in August 2023. Omotoni writes coming-of-age, young adult novels about falling in love in both contemporary and fantasy worlds. Everyone’s Thinking It, published by Scholastic, is set in Wodebury Hall – a boarding school in the English countryside – and centres around Kitan and Iyanu, estranged cousins and the only Nigerian girls in a predominantly white school. When Iyanu’s photos are stolen and sent around the school, each with a secret about members of the student population written on it, everybody is desperate to discover the truth, but this truth may change life as they know it forever. Waterstones included this debut in their best paperbacks of 2023 list, proving Omotoni is an author to watch in the coming months.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – known for her three international bestsellers – has come out with her debut children’s novel, Mama’s Sleeping Scarf, published by Penguin Random House. She has written this under a pen name, as she wants to continue writing more children’s novels talking about the ordinariness of Black women’s lives. She believes that, while there are many changes afoot in publishing and storytelling in an attempt to be diverse, there are still a lot of things that people are unfamiliar with about ordinary Black life. Mama’s Sleeping Scarf is a beautiful depiction of a mother-daughter bond and how a young girl, Chino, plays with her mother’s scarf and weaves adventures together with her toy bunny. This book is an homage to family love and the day-to-day lives of Black women. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is based in Nigeria and Baltimore, USA.
Omar Mohamed spent his childhood at the Dadaab camp, after his father was killed and he was separated from his mother in Somalia. He devoted himself to taking care of his younger brother, Hassan, and to pursuing his education. He now lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with his wife and five children and works at a centre to help resettle other refugees. He is the founder of Refugee Strong, a non-profit organisation that empowers students living in refugee camps. He still works with the Dadaab camp and travels back there once a year. His debut children’s novel, which he wrote along with Victoria Jamieson (author and illustrator), When Stars are Scattered, depicts the true story of his life in a refugee camp for eight-to-twelve year olds. The story follows Omar and his brother Hassan, two Somali boys, who have spent a long time in the Dadaab refugee camp. Separated from their mother, they are looked after by a friendly stranger.